Robot Down

ISIS: We Nabbed an Iranian Drone

Unmanned aircraft are crowding the skies over Iraq. Now ISIS says they’ve got one of their own—a drone they took from Iran.

11.17.14 9:55 PM ET

ISIS fighters in Iraq are bragging about an Iranian drone they claim to have captured.

Social media accounts associated with ISIS have been posting photos of the unmanned aircraft since this morning, claiming it was shot down in the Iraqi province of Diyala. The drone shown in the photos is “100% not U.S. or NATO sourced,” according to Christopher Harmer, an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War. Harmer added the drone “looks very similar to an Iranian Mohajer-4.”

The drone’s existence inside Iraq points to Iran’s role in the country and its ongoing clashes with ISIS forces.

Iran has played a central role inside Iraq since before ISIS’s rise and has been helping direct military operations inside the country. In addition to influencing the government and backing Shia militias in Iraq, Iranian drones—alongside those belonging to the U.S. and other members of the American led coalition—have patrolled Iraq’s skies since the early summer.

If ISIS did capture the Mohajer-4 this morning, it’s not the first time they’ve grabbed the equipment their foes. Recently, ISIS forces in Syria grabbed American arms shipments meant for their Kurdish opponents. It might not even be the first Iranian drone that has fallen into the militant group’s hands recently. The Twitter user @green_lemonnn who follows “news and analysis of Syrian civil war, Iraq insurgency & related subjects,” pointed to other recent photos of downed Iranian drones that have shown up in areas where ISIS clashed with Tehran-backed forces.

Harmer noted that “ISIS has shown the ability to shoot down Syrian Air Force fixed wing and helicopters; they are capable of shooting down drones.” But he added that the “suspicious lack of damage to the airframe,” indicates the drone might have crashed rather than been shot down.

What ISIS can do with the drone, assuming one is in their hands, is an open question. Without the proper equipment to repair and operate the Mohajer-4 it may be more of a photo prop than a piece of weaponry. If ISIS gets its hands on “an intact command and control unit, it is possible they could use [the drone] once or twice but unlikely that they could effectively employ it,” Harmer said. “In the unlikely case that they could control a Mohajer,” Harmer said, its “most likely use would be as a suicide drone flown into a high value target.”